Many people today use beta-blockers like Propranolol and Metoprolol, with or without a prescription, for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons, particularly when used off-script, is to treat or alleviate nerves and anxiety related to performance (stage fright).
Pharmaceutical beta-blockers are quite often used by professionals and performers in high-pressure fields, such as orchestral musicians , where performance anxiety can present a significant problem.
Yet while beta-blockers may provide relief for some of the symptoms of performance anxiety, some may be hesitant to take pharmaceutical medications due to risk of side-effects or long-term dependence, and thus seek out more natural treatments.
In this article we’ll explain a little more about how beta-blockers work, why some people are hesitant to use beta-blocker drugs, and a number of natural alternatives.
What are beta-blockers?
Beta-blockers, also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are a type of medication prescribed primarily to treat high blood pressure, as well as health issues like arrhythmia, angina, migraines and heart failure. They work by suppressing certain hormones, particularly epinephrine or adrenaline, that produce an elevated heart rate. As a result, beta-blockers reduce stress on the heart and lower blood pressure .
Some of the most commonly prescribed beta-blockers include:
- Sectral (Acebutolol)
- Zebeta (Bisoprolol)
- Coreg (Carvedilol)
- Lopressor (Metoprolol)
- Inderal (Propranolol)
- Tenormin (Atenolol)
How do beta-blockers work to prevent performance anxiety?
The symptoms of performance anxiety or stage fright overlap quite strongly with those of high blood pressure and heart conditions, which is why people began using beta-blockers to treat this condition.
Performance anxiety happens when you experience a significant stress response to an upcoming event. This stress triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, causing an increase in the production of epinephrine (adrenaline).
This increase in adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster. Blood pressure increases, and you start to breathe more rapidly .
Some side-effects can also occur, such as trembling, sweating, nausea and a dry mouth. These side-effects can be particularly detrimental for performers.
As beta-blockers work by slowing the rate by which adrenaline is released into the blood, thus reducing heart rate and blood pressure, these drugs can also be effective at reducing the symptoms of performance anxiety, counteracting the body’s stress response.
Risks of using beta-blockers
Occasional use of beta-blockers is considered reasonably safe for many people. However, they can present some side-effects and risks for people with certain health conditions.
Some of the most common side-effects of beta blocker usage  include:
- Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal discomfort
Beta-blockers may also cause issues for people with existing health issues, including:
- Obstructive pulmonary disease
- Diabetes & hypoglycemia
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- A history of cocaine use 
There’s also the risk of dependency or addiction. This can be particularly worrisome if one relies on beta-blocker drugs for their profession, such as musicians, athletes and performers. It’s not hard to develop an addiction or dependence, and you may end up with issues like high blood pressure or withdrawal when you stop taking beta-blockers.
Natural beta-blocker alternatives for performance anxiety
With the potential risks of beta-blockers, as well as the risk of dependence when you take any drug habitually, it may be best to consider which natural alternatives can provide the same benefits for performance anxiety.
Many foods, minerals and dietary supplements have similar properties as beta-blockers, in terms of lowering the negative effects of stress and anxiety.
Natural beta-blockers are less likely to have detrimental side-effects, and carry a lower risk of dependence or addiction. They’re also more widely available, as you do not need a prescription, and almost all are beneficial to your health in more areas than one.
Here are some notable natural beta-blocker alternatives you can consider trying:
GABA for Stage Fright & Anxiety
GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is a naturally-occurring amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter. GABA is widely recognized as having a calming effect, and GABA deficiency is believed to play a part in anxiety disorders .
L-theanine for Anxiety
L-theanine is an amino acid well known for its relaxing properties . Studies have shown that L-theanine may decrease the severity of stress-related symptoms, while increasing cognitive performance .
Thus, taking L-theanine may help performers counteract the nerves that come with performance anxiety, as well as providing better focus during their performance. Taylor Swift is known to use L-theanine to help her handle the stress of stage performances.
L-arginine for Anxiety
Another natural amino acid, L-arginine can lower blood pressure, and may provide relief for the symptoms of hypertension and some forms of heart disease . It increases the release of nitric oxide in the blood, causing blood vessels to open and allowing blood to flow more freely.
More research is necessary to show whether or not L-arginine also proves effective for nerves and anxiety the same way beta-blockers do.
L-arginine can be supplemented, as well as found in red meat, dairy, poultry and fish. Seek a doctor’s advice before taking any L-arginine supplement, however.
Magnesium as a Beta Blocker Alternative
Magnesium is a vital mineral, necessary for a wide range of the body’s natural functions. Magnesium deficiency is linked to cardiovascular diseases and hypertension .
Another of magnesium’s essential roles is to protect and regulate the nervous system .
Furthermore, several studies have found magnesium to have a positive effect on stress and anxiety , which leads us to believe it may be helpful in preventing or lessening the effects of performance anxiety.
Natural Brain-Boosting Supplements for Performers
Some dietary supplements contain a mix of ingredients that support focus, calm and cognition, which may counteract the negative side-effects of performance anxiety and stage fright.
One example that I personally like and recommend to clients is PerformZen , which contains GABA, L-theanine and Magnesium, as well as cognitive-enhancing ingredients Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B6 and Theacrine. These ingredients have been shown to help induce a calming effect on the body, as well as keeping the brain as sharp as it needs to be during your performance.
Potassium for Anxiety
Potassium is a mineral, much like magnesium, that is essential for many bodily functions. Common dietary sources of potassium include bananas, spinach, potatoes, dairy products, fish and legumes.
A diet rich in potassium may reduce blood pressure , while hypokalemia (low levels of potassium) is linked with heart problems such as heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
Garlic Effects on Performance Anxiety
Garlic can be a natural alternative to beta-blockers, providing many of the same positive effects on cardiovascular health and blood pressure.
Whether the antihypertensive benefits of garlic provide beneficial for performance anxiety is unproven, however its ability to replicate the effects of prescription beta-blockers is very promising.
Omega-3 fatty acids for Anxiety
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – what we commonly refer to when we talk about “healthy” fats – may have positive effects on cardiovascular health, blood pressure and symptoms of anxiety.
The cardiovascular benefits of omega-3s are well documented, with studies showing they may be effective at reducing blood pressure , raising levels of good cholesterol , and protecting against various forms of heart disease .
Omega-3s have also been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety .
Many people take fish oil supplements to increase omega-3 intake. You can also get omega-3s from your diet, in sources such as salmon, mackerel, oysters, chia seeds, walnuts and soy beans.
Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
You can use physical relaxation techniques along with, or in place of dietary supplements or OTC (over the counter) drugs to see many of the same positive effects.
Certain deep breathing exercises can alleviate symptoms of anxiety  and reduce blood pressure . Slow abdominal breathing has even been shown to reduce the effects of the “fight or flight” response , the exact phenomenon responsible for most cases of performance anxiety.
One particularly effective breathing exercise is the practice of belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. This involves taking deep breaths from the belly, as opposed to the chest, where our breathing naturally comes from.
Deep belly breathing is commonly used as a part of meditation, which shows positive effects for treating anxiety and stress-related symptoms . Navy SEALs also use a breathing technique called “tactical breathing”  to dull the nervous side-effects that come when the “fight or flight” response is triggered.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety
Another non-dietary alternative to beta-blockers is cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT for short. CBT is a form of psychotherapy, wherein one works with a therapist to develop psychological techniques to replace negative thought patterns with positive ones.
Due to these findings, CBT may also prove effective at treating or preventing stage fright for performers who otherwise rely on the use of beta-blockers.
Do Natural Alternatives to Beta Blockers Exist?
Performance anxiety, stage fright, and similar conditions are not fun to deal with. It’s even worse when you’re commonly asked to perform in high-pressure situations, especially when this is your profession.
Luckily there are many natural ways to treat the symptoms of performance anxiety, or even to prevent the cause itself. With amino acids like GABA and L-theanine, cognitive-enhancing supplements like PerformZen or physical relaxation techniques, you can have a go-to technique to fight off nerves and perform without anxiety.
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